Thursday, August 27, 2015

LinkedIn Buys Fliptop: Why Account Based Marketing and Predictive Analytics Are a Natural Fit

Predictive analytics vendor Fliptop today announced its acquisition by B2B social network LinkedIn.  It's an interesting piece of news but I'm personally disappointed at the timing because I have been planning all week to write a post about the relationship between predictive analytics and account-based marketing (ABM).  I would have looked so much more prescient had they announced the acquisition after I had published this post!

The original inspiration for the planned post was a set of three back-to-back conversations I had last Friday with one ABM vendor and two predictive analytics companies (none of which were Fliptop or LinkedIn).  The juxtaposition highlighted just how much predictive and ABM complement each other.  In fact, the relationship is so obvious that it almost seems unnecessary to lay it out: predictive vendors help marketers find accounts to target; ABM helps marketers reach target accounts.  You can safely assume that both sets of vendors have noticed the relationship and that many are working to combine the two techniques.  The Fliptop/LinkedIn deal is just more evidence of the connection.

To move past the very obvious, ABM vendors – whose basic business is selling ads targeted to specific companies – could also use predictive analytics to refine their ad targeting.  This could mean selecting the best people to reach within targeted accounts or selecting the most effective ad placements to reach those accounts.  This requires integration of predictive analytics within the ABM product, not just using predictive before ABM begins.  I expect LinkedIn will use Fliptop's capabilities in these ways among others.

But, getting back to last week's conversations, what really struck me was a less obvious connection of ABM and predictive to content.  Two of the vendors described using their systems to select which content to send to specific accounts or individuals.  These selections are based on previous behavior, something that certainly makes sense.  But I don't generally recall hearing ABM or predictive vendors discussing as one of their applications.  It's an important idea because it promises to improve results by delivering more relevant content for the same price.  The same data gives marketers insights into broader trends in the types of content that buyers find interesting.

Content analysis requires the ABM or predictive system to be aware of the topics of the content being consumed.  This is only possible if someone specifically goes to the trouble of tagging the content and capturing the tags.  So content analysis is not quite a natural byproduct of the ABM or predictive analytics: it takes some intentional effort.  A corollary is that not all ABM and predictive systems can deliver this benefit.  So it's something to specifically ask prospective vendors about if you think you'll want it.

To put things in a still broader perspective, targeting content with ABM and predictive systems is part of a broader trend of using advanced technology to help marketers create, manage, and optimize content.  This is something that vendors like Captora, Persado, and Olapic do in terms of content creation, and Jivox, OneSpot, Triblio, and BloomReach do in terms of personalized content creation.  I've been looking at a lot of those systems recently although I haven't written much about them here.  New targeting technologies create unprecedented demands for more content, which only new content technologies can meet.  So you can expect to hear more about technology-based content creation, whether I write about it or not.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Landscape of MarTech Vendor Directories

I'm making a presentation on marketing technology selection at B2BLeadsCon in New York next week, and had thought to start with the usual Oh-My-God-There-Are-So-Many-Vendors slide to get everybody's attention.  This would ordinarily be Scott Brinker's popular Chief MarTech Landscape but I've recently seen so many variations on the theme that I put together a composite slide instead.  This includes Scott's slide plus versions from Luma Partners, Gartner, MarTech Advisor, Terminus/FlipMyFunnel, and Growthverse.

I considered labeling this a "landscape of landscapes" but quickly realized that (a) it's not all that witty and (b) six vendors isn't enough.  But on further reflection, I recognized that these landscapes are really a type of directory that helps marketers find available products.  This led me to consider other types of online directories, of which there are many.  So I did end up producing a landscape that still isn't as crowded as Scott's but does show the number of information sources available.

As you see, this contains four sets of products: the original six landscapes, divided between the static images and the two interactive options (both very cool).  In addition, there are two directories with analyst ratings, from Gleanster and TopAlternatives.  But the biggest category is the community review sites, of which the best known among marketers are probably G2 Crowd, TrustRadius, and Software Advice.  Because the purpose here is to list tools that help marketers find systems to purchase, I didn't extend the landscape to business directories like Crunchbase, VentureBeat's VB Profiles and Owler.

I did look at every vendor shown in the graphic and can affirm that each includes at least some marketing systems.  There are some interesting differences in approach but, like any good landscape creator, I'll simply give you a set of logos and let you research from there. Again following the tradition of landscape publishers, I make no claims about the completeness of my list or the quality of any of the companies listed.  But I will make your life a bit easier by listing all the links below.  Enjoy!

Chief MarTech
G2 Crowd
Luma Partners 
MarTech Advisor
IT Central Station
Social Compare
Software Advice
Software Insider (formerly FindTheBest)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

New Paper -- Which Social Media Marketing Methods Are Best For You?

I’ve long been intrigued by the notion that complex business decisions can be reduced to relatively simple rules of thumb.   Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, at least when it comes to decisions I might be paid to make as a consultant. But I think I may safely say that simple rules can often provide a default decision that still needs confirmation by an expert. This gives people a clearer picture of the factors that go into making a choice without anyone getting hurt.

The good people at CommuniGator, a UK-based marketing automation system, were kind enough to sponsor a paper along those lines.  It's a do-it-yourself guide to picking social media marketing methods. You can download the actual paper here.  In this post, I’ll just outline the general approach – something I think can be applied to other situations as well.

The approach is built around three factors: the marketing methods available; the marketer's goals; and the marketer’s "situation", an umbrella term that includes resources, technology, and industry. It’s balancing  goals against the situation that's tricky: if resources were not a problem, you’d just use whatever methods fit your goals, and if goals didn’t matter, you’d just pick whatever methods fit your situation. No doubt plenty of companies have made exactly these errors. One virtue of a systematic approach is that it forces marketers to consider both dimensions.

For the social media marketing paper, we defined eight goals: attract attention, build brand reputation, generate qualified traffic, generate qualified leads, nurture relationships with leads, retain and grow existing customers, provide customer support, and gather market intelligence. You’ll notice these map nicely to the usual customer lifecycle stages.

We considered seven social media methods: monitoring social behavior, generating publicity, pushing content, making content sharable, promoting content on social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon and Reddit, working with influencers, and managing reviews on sites like Yelp! and TrustRadius.

Finally, we have the situation. Resources include ability to generate large volumes of content, ability to generate high quality content, existing social media traffic, available support staff, and budget. Technology includes available execution tools and measurement tools. Industry considers whether customers are highly engaged in the products, how easily they can find product information, and whether the product is a locally-created service such as a restaurant or home repairs.

The actual mechanics of relating these factors are something you’ll best understand by downloading the paper. Suffice it to say that we assigned points to show which goals were more or less suited to each method, which let us identified the most appropriate methods for the marketer's goals.  We then used another set of points to find which resources, technologies, and industry characteristics are most important for each method’s success. This let us judge which of the previously selected methods were most likely to be executed successfully.  And that's what we wanted to know.

I felt the results were pretty reasonable, but then I’m biased. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Intent Data Basics: Where It Comes From, What It's Good For, What To Test

Intent data is a marketer’s dream come true: rather than advertising to mass audiences in the hope of getting a handful of active buyers to identify themselves, just buy a list of those buyers and talk to them directly. It lops a whole layer off the top of the funnel and finally lets you discard the wasted half of your advertising.

But intent data is a complicated topic. It comes from different places, has different degrees of accuracy and coverage, and can be used in many different ways. Here’s a little primer on the topic.

What is intent data? It’s data that tells you an addressable individual is interested in your product. Ideally, that individual will be identifiable, meaning you have an email address, postal address, device ID, mobile app registration, phone number, or other piece of information that tells you who they are and lets you communicate with them directly. But sometimes you may only have an anonymous cookie or segment identifier that lets you reach them through only one channel and not by name.

Where does it come from? Lots of places. Behavior your company captures by itself is first-party intent data.  This is probably the most reliable but only applies to people you already know. Behavior captured by others is third-party intent data.  It's the most interesting because it provides new names or new information about names already in your database. Search queries are an obvious indicator of intent, but search engine vendors don’t sell lists based on query terms because they’d rather sell you ads based on those terms. So most third-party intent data is based on visits to Web pages whose content attracts prospective buyers of specific products. A smaller portion comes from other behaviors such as downloads, email clicks, or social media posts.

How is it sold? There are two primary formats. The first is ads served to people who have shown intent; this is generally called retargeting. The people are identified by cookies or device IDs and can be shown ads on any Web site that is part of the retargeter’s network. The original action could happen on your own Web site – the classic example is an abandoned shopping cart – or on some other site. Intent-based ads on social networks work roughly the same way, although the users are known individuals because they had to sign in. Retargeting is arguably a form of advertising and therefore not intent “data” at all. But I’m including it here because so many retargeting vendors describe their products in terms of intent. The second format is lists of email addresses. These are clearly data.  The addresses are usually gathered through user registration with the Web site.  Alternatively, the email can be derived from the cookie or device through matching services like Acxiom LiveRamp.

How reliable is it? Good question. Hopefully everyone reading knows that data isn’t perfect. But intent data is especially dicey because it comes from many different sources, some of which may be stronger indicators of intent than others. Users generally can’t see the original source. In addition, the data is aggregated by assigning the original Web content to standardized categories.  These may not precisely match your own products, or they may be grouped together so that some highly relevant intent is mixed with a lot of less relevant intent.  These problems are especially acute for B2B marketers, whose products may have a very narrow focus.  There’s also an issue of freshness: intent can change rapidly, either because someone already made their purchase or because their interests have shifted. So behavior that isn’t gathered and processed quickly may be obsolete by the time it reaches the marketer.

How complete is it? It’s worth distinguishing completeness from reliability because completeness is a big problem on its own. Intent vendors won’t necessarily capture every person in market for a particular product. In fact, depending on the situation, they may capture just a small fraction. Some people may not visit any site in the aggregator’s network; some may not visit often enough to register the required level of interest; some may decline to provide their identity or delete their cookies. In some businesses, reaching only a small fraction of interested buyers is still very useful; in others – especially where there are relatively few buyers to begin with – the marketer may be forced to run her own outreach programs to capture as many as possible.  In that case, the intent vendor's list would probably not include enough additional new names to be worth buying. 

How do you use it? More ways than you might think. It’s tempting just treat intent-based lists as sales leads.  But often the quality isn't high enough for that.  So the intent lists are often considered prospects to be touched through email, targeted advertising, and other low-cost media. Similarly, retargeting ads can be used to make hard sales offers or to more gently present brand messages and name-capturing content. Other applications include using presence on an intent list as a data point in a lead score, reaching out to dormant leads or current customers who suddenly register on intent lists, and tailoring messages based on the which topics the intent vendor finds an individual is consuming.

How do you test it? On the simplest level, you just apply the intent data to whatever type of program you’re testing (sales qualification, prospecting, lead scoring, reactivation, personalization, etc.) and read the results. Where things get a little tricky is figuring out which of the names would have registered as leads through some other channel, since they should be excluded from the analysis.  Similarly, you need to carefully test how new programs like lead scoring, reactivation, or topic selection programs would have performed without the intent data – it may be the good idea was the program itself. As a general rule of thumb, expect your own data to gain power as you build a longer history, so intent data is most likely to prove valuable on names early in the buying process.

Who sells it? Consumer marketers have a wide variety of intent sources, including Nielsen eXelate, Oracle Datalogix, and Neustar for lists and AdRoll, Retargeter, Fetchback, Chango and Magnetic for retargeting. B2B marketers can work with Bombora, The Big Willow, TechTarget, IDG, and Demandbase.